Friday Poem

(Following Hurrican Katrina) Ethel Freeman’s body sat for days in her wheelchair
outside the New Orleans Convention Center. Her son Herbert, who had assured his
mother that help was on the way, was forced to leave her there once she died.

Ethel’s Sestina

Gon’ be obedient in this here chair,
gon’ bide my time, fanning against this sun.
I ask my boy, and all he says is Wait.
He wipes my brow with steam, says I should sleep.
I trust his every word. Herbert my son.
I believe him when he says help gon’ come.

Been so long since all these suffrin’ folks come
to this place. Now on the ground ’round my chair,
they sweat in my shade, keep asking my son
could that be a bus they see. It’s the sun
foolin’ them, shining much too loud for sleep,
making us hear engines, wheels. Not yet. Wait.

Lawd, some folks prayin’ for rain while they wait,
forgetting what rain can do. When it come,
it smashes living flat, wakes you from sleep,
eats streets, washes you clean out of the chair
you be sittin’ in. Best to praise this sun,
shinin’ its dry shine. Lawd have mercy, son,

is it coming? Such a strong man, my son.
Can’t help but believe when he tells us, Wait.
Wait some more. Wish some trees would block this sun.
We wait. Ain’t no white men or buses come,
but look—see that there? Get me out this chair,
help me stand on up. No time for sleepin’,

cause look what’s rumbling this way. If you sleep
you gon’ miss it. Look there, I tell my son.
He don’t hear. I’m ’bout to get out this chair,
but the ghost in my legs tells me to wait,
wait for the salvation that’s sho to come.
I see my savior’s face ’longside that sun.

Nobody sees me running toward the sun.
Lawd, they think I done gone and fell asleep.
They don’t hear Come.

Come.
Come.
Come.
Come.
Come.
Come.
Ain’t but one power make me leave my son.
I can’t wait, Herbert. Lawd knows I can’t wait.
Don’t cry, boy, I ain’t in that chair no more.

Wish you coulda come on this journey, son,
seen that ol’ sweet sun lift me out of sleep.
Didn’t have to wait. And see my golden chair?

by Patricia Smith
from Blood Dazzler
Coffee House Press, 2008

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